We're talking about a 22-year-old forward who in each of his three NBA seasons has made huge jumps in production. He led the NBA in blocked shots this past season, by a mile, and made all 11 of his shots in a Western Conference Finals game against the Spurs.
No telling what Ibaka could command on the open market next summer, and his agent knows it. I don't see any way the Thunder can keep Ibaka for anything less than $10 million, and likely he will cost more.
That's the price of NBA big men. They're hard to find. And when you find one, it costs to keep them.
Look no further than Kendrick Perkins, the Thunder's enforcer of a center. Perk will make $7.8 million next season, 8.5 million in 2013-14 and $9.1 million in 2014-15. Gran Torino isn't much of an offensive threat, but he rebounds and plays defense and keeps the likes of Tim Duncan and Andrew Bynum at bay.
Some think the Thunder will have to cut Perkins under the NBA's new one-time only amnesty rule, which allows a franchise to clear a contract from its books.
But Perk's contract is value-loaded.
With the most recent rash of contract offers, Perkins' salary figures to rank in the bottom third of NBA center contracts. Looks to me like he'll rank 21st among the league's 30 starting centers.
And heck, it's not just big men that are getting interesting offers. The new collective bargaining agreement does not seem to have slowed the demand for ballplayers, no matter the price.
The Nets offered Gerald Wallace $40 million over four years. The Timberwolves offered Nicolas Batum $44 million over four years. Both are quality wings. But neither is close to being a star. Any reasonable analyst would have to say Ibaka is as valuable as either right now and his future is much brighter.
For the Thunder, signing Ibaka is getting more difficult by the day.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.